As I was working on my previous post, I had a thought I wanted to explore, but not enough space there: If we believe in eternal progression but also want to argue that there are limits to upward mobility in the eternities, we run into the question—why? Why wouldn’t it be possible to continue repenting and progressing after resurrection and judgement? While there’s a lot of potential answers (God said so, lower motivation to work on things in this life, etc.), one of the more interesting answers from Church leaders caught my attention as something to ponder. That answer was that the bodies we are resurrected with determine the level of glory in which we can dwell.
During his efforts to state that God doesn’t believe in opportunities for second chances in the afterlife, Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that:
The true doctrine is that all men will be resurrected, but they will come forth in the resurrection with different kinds of bodies—some celestial, others terrestrial, others telestial, and some with bodies incapable of standing any degree of glory. The body we receive in the resurrection determines the glory we receive in the kingdoms that are prepared.
Thus, according to him, the type of body you receive at resurrection determines which kingdom you’re locked into forever.
In teaching this doctrine, McConkie draws on the language of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. In that epistle, Paul discusses the resurrection and states that:
All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption.
At a glance, it could be interpreted as Paul referring to different body types in connection to the different Kingdoms of Glory.
Indeed, the Vision (D&C 76), which is the primary text discussing those degrees of glory, refers to Paul’s text. In describing those who are judged worthy to enter the Celestial Kingdom: “These are they whose bodies are celestial whose glory is that of the sun.” Likewise, those in the Terrestrial Kingdom “are bodies Terestrial and not bodies Celestial and differeth in glory as the moon differeth from the sun.” When approaching Paul’s text during the New Testament translation project, Joseph Smith also added references to “bodies Telestial” to align with the Vision, implying that Paul was referring to similar knowledge to that presented in the 1832 revelation. Based on how Paul’s words are handled in the Vision (with the respective kingdom being used as a descriptive term for bodies), I can see how Elder McConkie came to the conclusion he did about resurrected bodies being tied to specific degrees of glory—that you receive bodies that are specifically Celestial, Terrestrial, or Telestial in their glory.
Ultimately, however, we need to assess whether this is an accurate interpretation of Paul’s words. In the relevant section of his epistle, Paul is addressing concerns about whether the resurrection is a reality or not because “some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead.” The concern arose because in Greco-Roman society, it was a popular belief that the spirit and body separated at death so that the spirit can escape to a superior existence outside of the physical world. As such, the idea of the body being resurrected was viewed as laughable. Since he was responding to Greek philosophical ideas, Paul chose to model his response on well-known philosophical proofs, particularly those of Plato and Cicero. After listing a series of witnesses who provide evidential support for the Christ’s resurrection and several theological “if … then” statements to emphasize the resurrection as being foundational to the Christian faith, Paul uses a series of analogies to make the point that there can be body types other than our mortal bodies (i.e., resurrected bodies).
In this group of analogies, he is responding to the questions: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” First, he uses the analogy of planting a seed—“you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed.” In other words, the mortal body that is buried in the ground will differ from your resurrected body, just as the seed of wheat you bury in the ground differs in substantial ways from the monocot plant that germinates from that seed. Second, he uses the analogy of different types of animals to say that “not all flesh is alike.” Third, he contrasts earthly (terrestrial) bodies (probably referring to the bodies of living things on earth or something like bodies of water or bodies of land) with heavenly (celestial) bodies (referring to things observed in the sky like the sun, planets, moons, and stars), stating that they are different: “the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another,” and then goes into more detail about the heavenly bodies, stating that they also all differ in glory. He then states the point he is driving towards in all of these analogies—“So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown perishable, what is raised imperishable.” His responses to the initial questions are that the dead aren’t coming back the exact same way that they were buried when they are resurrected (no zombies here), but that the kind of body they have will be substantially different in their qualities from the mortal bodies we have now.
Thus, to me, it seems that Paul is making a much more limited point than we tend to think as Latter-day Saints when he talks about the sun, moon, and stars differing in glory. Rather than laying out specific categories for types of resurrected bodies, he is just making the broader point that there are different types of bodies in creation, like how resurrected bodies and mortal bodies are different. His focus, after all, is simply to shore up belief in the resurrection among saints in Corinth. We don’t use his second analogy to state that our resurrected bodies will be assigned to different kingdoms of flesh—that of human beings, animals, birds, and fish—so should we use the third analogy in that way?
That being said, while I have argued that it probably doesn’t reflect the author’s original intent, I recognize that Paul’s words can be interpreted to indicate that there are different levels of glory for each individual resurrected body, especially when interpreted through the lens of Section 76 and Joseph Smith’s New Translation. If we accept that as valid, however, the next question we run into is whether or not the idea of bodies being locked into a static state of glory aligns with what we understand about resurrected bodies. As far as I’m aware, Latter-day Saint prophets have suggested and taught three different version of what will happen after the resurrection—bodies will rise the same as they were laid down and not change, bodies will rise the same as they were laid down and will change, and bodies will rise in an ideal state and not change. I’ve explored some of these in more detail before, but let’s look at a brief overview of each one:
- Same and not change: President Joseph Smith taught the idea that “as the child dies, so will it rise from the dead and be living in the burning of God and possessing all the intelligence of a God. It will never grow, it will be the child in its precise form as it was before it died out of your arms. Children dwell and exercise power, throne upon throne, dominion upon dominion, in the same form just as you laid them down.” He seems to have consistently taught this during the last couple years of his life, which indicates that Joseph Smith believed in 1842-1844 that resurrected beings come back the same and stay the same, even if they are babies.
- Same and change: President Joseph F. Smith (remember the “F.”) was most famous for teaching this idea, and it seems to be connected to reconciling the idea of mothers having their children that died in their youth in the eternities with the idea of eventually having adult, perfected bodies in the resurrection. He taught: “The body will come forth as it is laid to rest, for there is no growth or development in the grave. As it is laid down, so will it arise, and changes to perfection will come by the law of restitution. But the spirit will continue to expand and develop, and the body, after the resurrection will develop to the full stature of man.” He believed that people will rise the same way we knew them in mortality, “even to the wounds in the flesh.” Afterwards, there would be a gradual perfection and healing of the body: “Not that a person will always be marred by scars, wounds, deformities, defects or infirmities, for these will be removed in their course, in their proper time, according to the merciful providence of God.”
- Perfect and not Change: President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that: “There would be no purpose whatsoever in having the body of any individual come forth from the dead just as it is laid down, showing the effects of disease which would have to be eliminated following the resurrection.” He noted the exception of Jesus having the wounds in his hands, feet, and side, but stated that this was merely “done to convince [his disciples] that they were not beholding a spirit” and was “for a divine purpose of bearing witness.” This idea has a decent amount of support from the scriptures (like Paul’s analogy of the seed, mentioned above, or Alma’s statement that “all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame”).
Now, we’re pretty far out into the hinterlands of grey areas in our theology that we don’t really know the answer to, but I bring this up because our assumptions about the nature of resurrected bodies is important in determining if you believe in Bruce R. McConkie’s assertion that there cannot be progression from kingdom to kingdom because “the body we receive in the resurrection determines the glory we receive in the kingdoms that are prepared.” If we believe that the body we receive in the resurrection doesn’t change after the resurrection (like Joseph Smith or Joseph Fielding Smith), then being locked into a specific glory potentially makes sense. If we believe that the body we receive in the resurrection does change after the resurrection (like Joseph F. Smith), then it does not make sense that we cannot progress in glory over time.
Again, I have no good answers as to what beliefs here represent reality (as I said in my last post, “we’ll likely have to learn the reality of the situation through personal experience”), but there are consequences that flow from one doctrine to another depending on what you believe. If you interpret Paul’s words to refer to specific levels of glory displayed by resurrected bodies and believe that we don’t change after the resurrection, then Elder McConkie’s teaching is plausible and make sense as an argument against progressing from kingdom to kingdom. I suspect, however, that we don’t really know enough about the subject to take his words as definitive until we gain more experience on the topic.
 Bruce R. McConkie, “The Seven Deadly Heresies,” BYU speech 1 June 1980, https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/bruce-r-mcconkie_seven-deadly-heresies/
 1 Corinthians 15:39-43, KJV.
 “Vision, 16 February 1832 [D&C 76],” p. 6, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed July 8, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/vision-16-february-1832-dc-76/6
 “Vision, 16 February 1832 [D&C 76],” p. 7, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed July 8, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/vision-16-february-1832-dc-76/7
 “New Testament Revision 2 (first numbering),” p. 129 (second numbering), The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed July 8, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/new-testament-revision-2/197
 1 Corinthians 15:12, NRSV.
 1 Corinthians 15:35, NRSV.
 1 Corinthians 15:37, NRSV.
 1 Corinthians 15:39, NRSV.
 1 Corinthians 15:40-41, NRSV.
 1 Corinthians 15:42, NRSV.
 Stan Larson, “The King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgamated Text,” BYU Studies 18, no. 2 (1978), p. 16.
 Joseph F. Smith, “Editor’s Table: On the Resurrection,” Improvement Era, June 1904, 623–24. Cited in Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1998, 2011), 91. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/teachings-joseph-f-smith/chapter-10?lang=eng
 Joseph F. Smith, “Speech at the funeral services of Rachel Grant,” Improvement Era, Vol 12, p. 591, June, 1909. Cited in Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 91-92.
 Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions: The Classic Collection in One Volume (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1966), 5:43.
 Alma 40:23.